Seed Savers Exchange: They’ve Arrived!

It's finally time to get some seeds in the ground and they have just arrived! We're still at risk for frost here so at least for the time being it's going to have to be an indoor operation to get this years crop going.

With Seed Savers Exchange giving a quick delivery I have finally gotten to start planting my garden, indoors albeit.

I’m working as a goal this year to reduce my food budget by planting a sizeable garden that will keep producing until the end of the growing season.  The little parcel of land that comes with the townhouse we are renting doesn’t get enough light to really be of much use for food production of any scale but for $35 and 6 hours of volunteer work I have been able to secure a community garden spot within walking distance of my house.

To get seeds to turn into transplant vegetable starts doesn’t take very much I have discovered. A cold fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling on a chain gives an adjustable height light source that will cost less than $35 dollars for the whole setup.  I bought start-up trays with covers that provided extra moisture for plants and a spray bottle to occasionally blast them with mist.

A Compact fluorescent light, a tray or even yogurt containers and some potting soil is the recipe to and early garden.

This year when I planted my seeds I didn’t even cover them with soil in their trays. One of my eccentric professors, Elizabeth Howley, explained to our class that the soil is really just their to provide even moisture to the seeds. True to form the germination rates have been nearly one hundred percent for me so far.

These trays and optional greenhouse covers can be purchased almost anywhere this time of year.  Just stumble into any store with a garden center and look around.  Prices for the trays wont be more than a couple of dollars.

My step for this week is to create a detailed plan to reduce my food budget for this year.  To start working towards this I have mapped my garden and will need to make a crop schedule.  I have bought a few varieties of storage onions and garlic that should last in storage and I have started succession planting greens for early spring.

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Phone: Samsung Evergreen Review

The Evergreen may be "green" but it's sustainable creds are somewhat deciduous.

Growing up in Oregon I have often been surrounded and awed by our stands of noble firs and eternally green valleys.  So when it came to buying a new phone it came as no surprise to me that I couldn’t escape the allure of something called the Evergreen.

I’m sure I am not the only person walking around Portland wearing down their thumbnails on the Evergreen’s keypad. This is Samsung’s newest eco-friendly phone and it loudly toots its own horn visually claiming on the phone “planet first.”

Samsung’s Evergreen had everything I needed in a phone, mostly a flip down keyboard.  I experimented the last two years with two touch screen phones that couldn’t trip past their first year of digital life and decided that I needed something a little more tried and trued. Solid buttons, sturdy feeling plastic and 2 megapixel camera were all I really wanted and essentially that’s all I got.

The phone did have one app that broke the norm of what I though a traditional “dumb” phone could have. The Google Maps app provides step by step driving directions on a screen far smaller than a computer. This is a godsend app for those who do not wish to spend ten bucks a month for a gps service that may politely tell you to turn off an overpass.

When it comes to the green specs, this phone seems to show manufacturers are making progress even if it’s only in the marketing department. The plastic casing for the phone is 70 percent recycled plastic coming in a box made of 80 percent recycled paper.  Instead of getting a physical user manual with the Evergreen Samsung has opted to save a tree and dig an oil well by giving out CD manuals.

Fallowing in suit with newspapers, all packaging is printed on with the more biodegradable soy oil based ink.  Although great strides have been made to make this a suitably green choice for the eco-conscious consumer, the Evergreen is still just a cellphone in a recycled jacket with the same toxic parts that pervade the market.

Just like Prius drivers this phone longs to be seen as “green.” Both fall short in one aspect, batteries.  Aside from the toxicity involved in chip production, the batteries of this phone are hazardous. To help offset this at&t has hidden a recycling program in the software of this phone. This was an annoying factor for me.  It seems a bit elitist for at&t only to offer recycling to people who can afford a computer.  Maybe it makes me pretentious for caring.

Overall I’m still happy with this phone. I can’t really consider this a weekly step because to me the Evergreen is just another product meant to make the eco-conscious consumer less guilty about buying environmentally friendless product. Until I’m ready to not buy a cell phone this seems to be a decent alternative.

Overwintering: The Year Round Experience.

Black opal

I bought this African Blue Basil last year. After waiting for seeds to be produced for the entire summer, I learned that this plant is a hybrid and has the reproductive potential of two mules. With a little cloning this plant has lived on the last three months in my bedroom.

Looking out the window I can finally see the sun’s arch reach over the neighboring apartments, a signal of the approaching spring. Pretty soon gardeners all throughout the Northern Hemisphere will be elbows deep in dirt preparing for another year of foodstuffs.

This year, instead of heading to the nearest Home Depot for the cheapest seeds I can find, I’m utilizing one of the coolest concepts that I have heard of in a long time. I am buying my seeds from a company called Seed Savers Exchange(SSE).

So what I’m buying brand name seeds?

The Exchange realized that as agriculture become more standardized the plethora of seeds that were saved within families for generations were being lost.  The mechanical mass extinction event was taking place and the exchange felt it had to act. The company started an exchange based seed bank.  Members throughout the world share their seeds with the company and other members around the world. Through the organization members are encourage to either buy and sell with each other. SSE also sells to the general public although it only offers an sampled selection of the vast variety of seeds at their disposal.

The seeds they save are all heirlooms, meaning they have been reproduced continually for at least 50 years.  Although these seeds are going to prove to be more expensive than my old shopping habits, I’m going to be winning in the long run. Since all of these will be non-hybrid plants, the seeds will be viable for saving and hopefully regrowing next year.

This weeks step is to buy heirloom seeds.

Seed Savers Exchange

Slowly eaking my way back

I’m still not back to posting regularly or posting anything of substance really but I feel an obligation to keep writing and logging the journey for reasons that I don’t really understand. I think it’s true that at some point every writer hates to practice their craft. I’m not going to try and be creative at the moment it would be too forced.

Whoever invented some of the pesticides I’m studying, however, seemed to be a very witty person.
A sampling of their writings:

paraquat and diquat:
Acute systemic effects and other effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, giddiness, fever, burning pain in mouth, throat, stomach and intestine.

Somebody in the test group obviously had a good outlook on things.

Back Home and Back Online

When I got home this year the Swiss and Rainbow Chard I had planted before leaving were in full bloom, even now in December they are hanging in strong!

I left Tennessee and with it my blogging. Suddenly I had too much to do, I was too tired and various other excuses. I’m back online, however, and happy to report I’ve finally quit smoking, at least I’ve been smoke-free for three days! As for America’s most sustainable smoke, I know that the 100 percent organic cigarette offered by American Spirit has to be in the top five but I still have no conclusive answers but true to form I plan to find some.

I’m working on a degree in Horticulture now as well, hoping it helps me in a future of homesteading.  For now though its just enough to put some words on this page and call it a day.

This weeks step quit smoking and log another post.

Smoking the “good” stuff: A search for America’s most sustainable smoke.

Smokers in this picture,4. Currently smoking,3. Currently rolling,1. Total viewers of 2010 World Cup Final,700 million. Smokers Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 Billion. Smoking is still the Earth's pastime.

I’ve made a pledge in my head a while back to have my weekly updates posted on Sunday’s. I figured it’s about time I actually said that.  The reason for this is mostly so I can keep track of what week I pledged to do something and so I can remember to keep up with my goal of taking one step towards sustainability each week.

Now that I have that out of the way, it’s time for this weeks step.

For a while I have been attempting to quit smoking, the reasons aren’t really related to this blog or sustainability in general.  I’m just tired of  the subtle sickness that comes along with the burning pleasure of a good cigarette. I’ve had allergies for a while without knowing what they were and realized that whenever I smoke the allergies get worse and my head goes from being slightly uncomfortable to the point where I feel like laying down, ignoring the world and napping my way to the end of the day. In summery, I’m an addict.

The act of smoking, it has recently been pointed out to me, isn’t sustainable in itself seeing as it destroys the user over time instead of helping them. My focus on a renewable world has never factored in personal health. I’ve figured as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m not here to preach and I’m not here to get preached at. Informing is a different matter, however, and I never mind getting details I didn’t know before or understand (thanks Trista).

The point of this blog isn’t to tell the world how to live; the point of The Sustainable Student is to show how one person is attempting to live a life that won’t impact the future for others and it doesn’t mean that my way is right but it’s an attempt. Smokers I’m not attacking. Non-smokers don’t attack. It’s common knowledge now that if you smoke health problems fallow.

Disclaimer aside this week I am pledging to become actively involved in a search for finding the most sustainable cigarette. Unfortunately I get the feeling this means I’ll have to kick my old drinking buddy, Camel Light, into the gutter.

Finding information about the production of cigarettes hasn’t been an easy task so far. These companies have developed powerful marketing teams and know how to soften almost any blow. Finding negative information on farming practices for companies like this will be the equivalent to finding a ninja in his home town. Searching by brand names is ineffective, all that pops up for these are websites that require a user to log in.

For now I’m going to be focusing on a couple of Americas power players, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris and American Spirits manufacturer Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.  As long as I continue smoking, I’ll keep updating the list of companies I have researched.

My research so far shows the hipster and hippie mainstay of American Spirits is winning out.  Their website submerges viewers into a world where you’d think that American Spirit’s manufacturers, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company(owned by RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the creature behind Camels) are a co-op of small time organic farmers, not a major U.S. tobacco subsidiary.

All three of these companies try to harness the image of eco-conscious, caring and community oriented members of your hometown. Slick tongues and vague statements help them drive this idea home.

Right now I’m focusing on the  agricultural processes used in growing the tobacco for the cigarettes.  Later I will tackle the other slippery processes that gets a leaf from a field to my mouth.

Philip Morris – This link guides to what Philip Morris says it is doing to promote sustainable agriculture.

R.J. Reynolds – On their website R.J. Reynolds does not have any information regarding the growing processes of their tobacco, at least none that I could find.

Santa Fe Tobacco Company – The creators of American Spirits put a lot of emphasis on image. Considering themselves a “green” company they put a lot of work into showing their growing processes.

So far American Spirits are the leading pack, when it comes to finding America's most sustainable cigarette.

I’ve realized that this journey to find the most sustainable cigarette is going to be long. It’s like flowing down an uncharted river, never knowing whats around the bend and constantly wondering if that last move to the left was the correct side to pick when the river forks. For now I’m smoking spirits and emailing the companies to see what percentage of their product is organically grown.

The life and death of a small farm hog.

Early in the summer these young hogs were living the good life, one day change it all. From pen to pork

Pigs are dirty, smelly, rotten animal,s unworthy of a good life or a large space because they will foul up any piece of earth that you give them.  Although this description fits a majority of politicians, my experience with pigs has taught me they are not the unclean, bestial organisms that I’ve heard a lot of people write them off as.

In that last few months I’ve watched four hogs go from small critters to slaughter-sized meat producers.  We’ve taken two off to the butcher and two more are awaiting their end of days. At first it was almost sad sinking my teeth into the first pig we’ve ever raised for food but as the thoughts started drifting through my mind I took comfort in the fact that these were probably the happiest pigs I’ve ever digested.

I’ve only seen hog operations a few times throughout my life. The first operation I saw was an indoor cage, complete with spillways that allowed for the animal waste to wash into the center of the pen so it could be easily cleaned. The only other operations I have seen were online and the pigs didn’t seem to have very much space to move and breath, let alone stay clean.

The operation that Purring Dog Farm has running for hogs is a humane one. I have spent a little under an hour a day the last two months working side by side the hungry, misunderstood creatures.  Every morning feeding them their daily allotment of corn and whatever else may be on hand.  Throughout the weeks I have watched how the animals think and interact and laughed at the way they’ll  trip over each other like kids on cake, to get the prized commodities of eggs and watermelon.

The last meal for future food.

Rolling in the mud and getting dirty is the way they stay cool, similar to elephants and dogs.  The faint smell of their waste isn’t the first scent that hits when entering their 100 ft by 100 ft enclosure.  In fact the first month and a half that I was on the farm, I only smelled the foul odor of their digested corn once.  Pigs are similar to dogs in the sense that they prefer not to wallow around in shit and urine if they don’t have to. If given enough space they will gladly deposit waste in a far corner of their structure, the only spot left that is green from under use.

Between playing and sleeping all day our hogs still make time to attempt eating gloves and boots while they are still on the wearers feet and one has developed an affinity for using my aunt April as a scratching post. When the first roast was made up, April was having a hard imagining how she could eat it after spending the time watching, feeding, scratching and admiring the 200 lbs of fat and muscle. We all agreed that she made the right decision, in a pan with gar

lic and butter.

The day before we took the black-speckled pink walls of meat to the butcher, my uncle Bill and me made a practice run of getting them into the horse trailer, making sure the next day went smoothly.  Our plan was to herd them, by pinching them in with two doors forcing them forward. After 3 minutes of getting pushed around, we headed indoors defeated and feeling weak. After

The stalkyard and final hours.

tearing through farmers books and scouring the internet more thoroughly than any porn addict, we resigned to faith that the next morning would pan out, expecting the worse. It was a six-o-clock morning, early for us lazy farmers, the pigs had to be in by 9 a.m. or else the official “pig killer” would go home, a man paid by commission not by the hour and who didn’t like to wait.

After backing up the trailer, we went with honey instead of vinegar. By cutting watermelon in half and throwing them to the rear of the transport we found the pigs loved the food enough to jump on in. After two filed in we closed the doors. The day before had taught us not to be picky. We fed them a last meal of their favorite treat, eggs, and left for Morgan’s Meat Processors.

On arriving we had to remove the pigs, this time force was our only option. Getting them out of the trailer was less of a task than getting them in, if you did it right. Hogs do not respond to being pulled but they will eventually let pushing them make a difference. The last time we saw our hogs they were playing together and wallowing in the puddles of mud, in a stalk-yard like coral.  After filling out the cut-sheets before their eyes, we took off waiting for a call telling us the deed was done. Hanging above the entrance to the slaughterhouse a sign reading “absolutely no unauthorized personnel allowed.”

Later, when we picked up the freshly processed pork, 127 lbs of the tastiest, best kept meat was waiting for us. Ethically speaking the practice was sustainable but on a level of understanding that everyone can agree with, I can say, home-grown pork beats anything you’ll ever find on a shelf. The twinge of guilt I felt while watching the pigs play out their last few minutes of life was only a reminder that every meal involves a life and suffering. I don’t doubt for a minute though that if the roles were reversed, those hogs would have been more than happy to call me a meal. And life goes on …